What are you working on and why are you excited about it? I finished a novella called “Fenichel” last October. I hope to get this published soon. Beyond that, I’m co-writing a musical, “The Hotwife of Hyde Park,” gruelingly in development since 2014.
Did you grow up with music in your family? A bit, yes. My mother listened to sixties folk music. The genres my father admired are better left unsaid.
Was there a live concert experience that impacted you early on? In 2001, John Cale played a pub in Evanston. I had a ticket but, because I was underage, the pub (Tommy Nevin’s) wouldn’t let me into the show. Anyway, I unhappily roamed downtown Evanston when, suddenly, I spotted Cale and his people leaving Pete Miller’s Steakhouse. I approached him, explained the Nevin’s issue, and mentioned I saw him live a few years earlier at the Knitting Factory—and no one at that venue cared I was a teenager. “Well, aren’t you a little recidivist,” he said, snobbishly dismissing me. His entourage chuckled. I felt incredibly stupid, but still asked Cale to sign a copy of “Fragments of a Rainy Season” I had with me. Using a needlepoint pen, instead of a signature, he drew various squiggles across the disc. After rigorously scratching my CD—making his music unplayable—the old Welsh rocker in the neon orange hoodie and baseball hat departed down Sherman Avenue.
What was your first public performance? I can’t recall my first public performance. But I remember my last one: I performed with a friend who, in addition to songwriting, is a Chicago television journalist. Before soundcheck, he mentioned Rahm Emanuel would be at our show. This rumor swirled around the venue for an hour or two. In the end, of course, Rahm didn’t appear. I played to a small crowd utterly indifferent to my music, and a room smelling of calamari. A pretty typical David Safran gig.
How do songs come about for you? At the moment, my songwriting process means fighting the urge to write songs.
How do you feel about playing covers and what are your personal fail-safe go-to’s? I’ve never really played covers before. It’s a beautiful skill I seem to lack. But a few years ago, for Valentine’s Day, I recorded Lou Reed’s “HookyWooky” and sent it to my girlfriend, Emma.
What songwriters are on your Mt. Rushmore? After my John Cale encounter, I stopped carving human beings into a rock.
What advice would you give to a young musician seeking a path? My advice? Be sure that alongside your career path there is a revenue stream. The best advice, though, comes via my maternal grandmother, Hilda. Many years ago, my cousin was in the middle of his bar mitzvah, and flubbing it. He couldn’t remember the Hebrew bits. Aware her grandson was panicked, Hilda called out from her seat, “Just keep going—it’s not like we have any idea what you’re saying.” Really, that’s my only advice. Just keep going—it’s not like we have any idea what you’re saying.
Are you jazzed about any new artists or releases we should know about? Actually, I was about to ask you the same question. I’ve been listening to the same five songs for the last twenty years.
Your time machine is set for the 70’s, what recording session do you sit in on and what suggestions might you offer to slightly alter rock & roll history? Recording is a horribly boring activity. A studio is the last place I’d send my time machine. That said, I own a Smithsonian Folkways record called, “Calypso Awakening from the Emory Cook Collection.” I wish I could travel back to, I think, the 1950s and watch Small Island Pride record a song called “Taxi Driver.” – David Safran